It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Maria Jimenez as of Tuesday, December 1, 2020, after a courageous battle with cancer. Maria was a research associate for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health (SWCOEH) in the Department of Epidemiology, Human Genetics and Environmental Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health.
Maria started her journey in Coahuila, Mexico and migrated with her family to the U.S. in 1957. As a student of political science at the University of Houston, Maria transitioned her calling to advocate and mentor others for civil rights, human rights, and immigrant rights and tirelessly did so throughout her lifetime. The Houston Chronicle quotes Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who remembers Maria not only a mentor to her, but someone who was a “compassionate and tireless leader, fighting for the most vulnerable, especially immigrants.”
Maria is remembered for her work with many impactful activists and in communities in the U.S., Mexico and Central America, and she is remembered as a friend. Elaine Symanski, PhD, former SWCOEH director, now at Baylor College of Medicine in the Center for Precision Environmental Health, said, “For the past 10 years, Maria worked tirelessly on several community-engaged research projects investigating the impact of air pollution on the health of Houstonians. She was a gem - a real treasure - selflessly sharing her insights and talents that sharpened the environmental injustice lens through which our studies were focused, ensured a greater voice of our community partners and enhanced the impact of our findings in improving environmental health in Houston’s underserved and vulnerable neighborhoods.” Dr. Symanski went on to add, “Maria’s reach went far beyond her work with us as her involvement in the social justice movement extended over a period of 40 years. Her life is a testament to inclusion, diversity and equity. I will miss her greatly – we all will.”
Mary Ann Smith, PhD, assistant professor of environmental and occupational health, SWCOEH, and assistant dean at UTHealth School of Public Health states, “Maria’s long and storied career as an activist and advocate preceded her time with us in the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health. Those of us fortunate enough to work with her on the Metal Air Pollution Partnership Solutions (MAPPS) project came to understand what a privilege it was to have her in our midst and to learn from her. She taught us through her actions which were based in a quiet grace and humility, sprinkled with power whenever she needed to be forceful. While her journey here has ended, her legacy is lasting. We can honor her by continuing to advocate for the causes she found most compelling, and to teach through our actions.”
Read more on Maria’s early life and life of activism in a publishing from the Houston History Magazine. Our thoughts are with Maria’s family and friends, and all of those she impacted in her lifetime.